Critique of “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”

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“Human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience” (Fromm, 1981, ¶1). Comparing this statement to the historical idea that obedience is a virtue and disobedience is a vice is the basis of Erich Fromm’s essay entitled “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” (1981). Referencing historical and biblical accounts, Fromm claims that mankind was not human until the point of the first disobedient act, at which point the transformation from “prehuman harmony” began (¶2). He states that mankind endures as a result of continued disobedience. Fromm uses several comparison examples to make his argument on disobedience versus obedience. He notes the extremes to his argument, such as a slave versus a rebel and the various degrees of obedience in between, including “autonomous obedience”: the act of obeying because one believes it is right based on one’s own moral convictions (¶8). Fromm also compares two types of conscience: “authoritarian conscience” and “humanistic conscience.” He equates authoritarian conscience to Freud’s “Super-Ego” or the fear of authority where people follow authority out of fear even though they believe they are acting on their own decision (¶10). He states that humanistic conscience is inherent in the human conscience and acts as our moral compass to our basic human existence. Fromm further compares ‘rational authority” or universal reasoning (i.e. parent to child) to “irrational authority” or force (i.e. supervisor to subordinate, where subordinate is used for supervisor’s personal gain). Fromm views disobedience as the path to freedom (¶15). While much of his definitions are credible, his view as stated comes across as extreme in parts. Given the time period in which his essay was originally conceived, his fear of nuclear annihilation comes across. Fromm’s views seem deeply rooted in his religious values. Religion is a form of authority and governments have been...
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